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Prince to Open ‘Tennis Innovation Center’ at IMG Academies

Prince is opening an “advanced tennis innovation center” at IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla., the company announced, as part of a multi-year renewal agreement with IMG Academies. A statement from Prince says: “Under the terms of the new agreement, IMG Academies will become a prime catalyst of Prince’s ‘Who’s Next’ philosophy, aimed at cultivating future champions and taking the game of all tennis athletes to higher levels through leading-edge on-court weaponry, training, and complete athlete support programs.”

“While Prince has played an important role in the advancement of our tennis program for many years,” said Sam Zussman, managing director of IMG Academies, “we are looking forward to this next step, which will bring the best of Prince’s product and technical expertise to the heart of our campus.”

The innovation center will be outfitted with state-of-the art product and performance-testing equipment, said Prince, and “will offer athletes a comprehensive approach designed to help them take their game to the next level, including customized product fitting and product-concept testing activities.”

Prince and IMG Academies also will collaborate on and off-site to offer athletes a comprehensive product, training and development program, including talent scouting programs, training analysis and “online information offerings” for elite athletes and tennis enthusiasts globally. The IMG Bollettieri Tennis Academy has several hundred full-time tennis student-athletes, and thousands more camp participants of all ages.

Gamma Lays Claim to the ‘Black Racquet’

On Jan. 25, Gamma revealed it had created the “Black Racquet” that generated a lot of interest on the web and in social media the last few months. As we now know, the Gamma RZR line consists of five adult frames and one junior model (see page 8). But the marketing idea — to create consumer demand by putting all-black, unmarked frames in the marketplace, then “unveiling” the Gamma connection (including a new Gamma logo and branding) — stemmed from the interest that was generated when staff playtested blacked-out prototypes.

Gamma Product Manager Chuck Vietmeier says the process began more than a year ago, when the company used an independent research group to help develop a new racquet line “from the ground up.” Keeping the development a secret, Gamma named the concept team “Black Racquet Labs” and the new racquet line “Black Racquet.” The goal, says Vietmeier, “was to create the most aerodynamic racquet to date.”

“I used the prototypes all summer while playing tournaments and USTA league tennis,” Vietmeier says. “We also used a select group of playtesters from across the country. I noticed that no matter where I played there was a high level of curiosity in regards to the racquet I was using. The fact that it looked different and that it was all-black generated lots of looks.”

To continue generating buzz among players, Gamma, whose sales staff didn’t even know about the new line, decided to play on the “Black Racquet” theme and released a select number of racquets to consumers chosen to be “testers.” Vietmeier says word went out on social media, and thousands of applications came in. Those picked received the Black Racquet, with no idea which manufacturer was producing it.

Then in early January, dealers received Black Racquets shipped from Fromuth, again, not knowing Gamma was behind it. “Once dealers started to receive the packages, they called Fromuth and asked who was sending them,” Vietmeier says. “But no one cracked.” A hangtag on the frames instructed the dealer to visit blackracquet.com, and the website showed a clock counting down to the unveiling.

“The actual launch happened during our national sales meeting,” he says. “When we finally let our sales reps in on the secret, they were totally surprised, not only how it was kept so quiet, but even the mere fact it was done by Gamma. We had a big meeting-ending dinner while we watched the clock count down, and once it hit zero the reps were pumped. Our Facebook page went wild. Now everyone knows who is responsible for Black Racquet.”

USTA Southern Section Offers Incentive for Adult Leagues

The USTA Southern Section is continuing an innovative incentive program to help bring adults into USTA League Tennis. Any tennis coach, team captain, local league coordinator or other tennis enthusiasts in the Southern Section will be rewarded with $200 when they add six new players to a new or existing team.

The Southern League Growth Initiative is designed to promote play in the USTA League Adult and Senior programs. For leagues that begin in the 2012 calendar year, new players can be added at the 2.0, 2.5, 3.0, 3.5, 4.0, 4.5, and 5.0 levels. When six new players are added, league captains or coaches just need to fill out a simple online claim form (at southern.usta.com). The first 350 new teams in the USTA Southern Section are eligible.

Gamma Unveils Six RZR Racquets

Gamma’s newest racquets — as revealed at the end of January — are part of the RZR line, which for months had been the subject of speculation as the “Black Racquet.” The frames are the RZR 98T, 98, 100T, 100, 110, and 100 Jr. 26.

“The goal of the RZR line was to develop the most aerodynamic racquet available for all types of shots,” says Gamma Product Manager Chuck Vietmeier. “Regardless of the angle of the racquet while hitting grounds strokes, serves or volleys, the racquet always has an angle or an edge cutting through the air. Most of the testers experienced improved racquet-head speed with the RZR over their current frame.”

Gamma says the RZR 98T is designed for serious players, who can hit deep, penetrating strokes and big serves. It has a 98-square-inch head and weighs 11.4 ounces. The RZR 98, with the same head size but weighing 10.6 ounces, is for players who prefer a lighter, more maneuverable frame.

The RZR 100T is designed for players “who want to punish every ball they hit from anywhere on the court,” says Gamma. It weighs 11 ounces with a 100-square-inch head. The RZR 100 weighs an ounce less, for players who want more feel and racquet-head speed.

With a 110-square-inch head and weighing 9.5 ounces, the RZR 110 is a lightweight, aerodynamically-shaped frame that Gamma says offers a blend of power and control and “slices through the air with ease for greater comfort.” The junior model in the line is the 26-inch-long RZR 100 Jr. 26, at 100 square inches and 8.8 ounces. Visit gammasports.com.

10 and Under Tennis Hits Consumers in Major Push

At the USTA Community Tennis Development Workshop in New Orleans in January, Kurt Kamperman, the chief executive of Community Tennis, stressed that the USTA will “focus on fewer things that will create bigger results, and do them better.” In 2012, he added, that means concentrating on 10 and Under Tennis.

“If you’re only focused on adults, this is the year you need to add kids. This is the opportunity of a lifetime,” he told the more than 700 community tennis leaders who gathered for a weekend packed with presentations on increasing tennis participation.

Kamperman said that over the last few years, the USTA and the industry has been “building the infrastructure” to deliver 10 and Under Tennis, speaking mainly to the industry and tennis providers. But in 2012, “the reach goes to general consumers.”

Kicking off the consumer push will be a partnership that started Feb. 4 with Nickelodeon television network, which reaches 100 million households. The two stars of the new Nickelodeon program “How to Rock” — Cymphonique Miller and Max Schnieder — will be promoting 10 and Under Tennis, including filming a spot for the USTA to air on the show. Both stars also will be doing appearances for 10 and Under Tennis, including at select SmashZone Tour stops.

The consumer reach continues with Youth Registration, held during the month of March and keying on Tennis Night in America on March 5. On that Monday night, the BNP Paribas Showdown will be held at Madison Square Garden featuring Roger Federer vs. Andy Roddick and Maria Sharapova vs. Caroline Wozniacki. The evening will be broadcast on ESPN, says Kamperman, adding, “We’re going to use the telecast as a commercial for 10 and Under Tennis.”

The SmashZone Tour, with interactive games for kids, will again be on the road throughout the U.S. in 2012, stopping at fairs and many non-tennis events from March to October. SmashZone also will be at select US Open Series events and the US Open.

Nickelodeon also sponsors the annual “Worldwide Day of Play” in September, in which kids are urged to turn off the TV and computer and get outside and play. Kamperman said 10 and Under Tennis will be an “unofficial sponsor” of that event, with a goal of having 1,000 Play Days around the country on that day.

“The goal is to drive parents and young kids to your program,” Kamperman said of the 10 and Under Tennis consumer push. For more information, visit 10andundertennis.com.

New Looks for Babolat Frames, Shoes

Babolat has updated the look of its Pure Drive racquets and Propulse shoes for 2012. For the Pure Drive, Pure Drive Lite and Pure Drive 107 frames, Babolat’s cosmetic philosophy of "light design" features bright flashes of color energizing a darker background. The new-look Propulse 3 and Propulse Lady 3 continue the partnership with fellow French iconic brand Michelin for an outsole with key grip and durability features. 877-316-9435 or babolat.com

USTA Serves Awards $1.5 Million in 2011

USTA Serves, the National Charitable Foundation of the USTA, has granted 41 community tennis and education organizations in the U.S. more than $400,000 in grants. Combined with scholarship awards, USTA Serves distributed more than $1.5 million in 2011.

The bi-annual grant process, a national initiative of USTA Serves, was developed to provide disadvantaged, at-risk children with the opportunity to learn to play tennis and improve their academic skills in a structured format, and to help combat childhood obesity by promoting healthy lifestyles. To date, USTA Serves has awarded more than $10 million to a variety of programs that share those aims.

“USTA Serves is thrilled to continue to support great organizations throughout the country who go above and beyond in their efforts to make a difference in the lives of America’s youth by using tennis as a vehicle for change,” says Mary Carillo, President, USTA Serves.

The grant recipients are chosen by a Grant Proposal Review Committee comprised of USTA Serves board members and USTA national staff, with important input from USTA sections. Grants are awarded to programs that successfully combine tennis and education and help children pursue their goals and highest dreams by leading healthier lives, succeeding in school and becoming healthier citizens.

For the complete list of grant recipients, visit USTA Serves at usta.com.

People watch

Ashaway Introduces Zyex MonoGut Tennis String

Tennis string manufacturers have been trying for years to reproduce the exceptional playing characteristics of natural gut. Now, Ashaway says that goal may be in reach.

Ashaway’s newest tennis string is Zyex MonoGut, which the company says provides exceptional dynamic stiffness and gut-like playability, improved abrasion resistance, plus a surface design that minimizes string movement for better ball control.

"Like natural gut, our new Zyex MonoGut string retains tension better than any other synthetic material," said Ashaway Vice President Steve Crandall. "It provides exceptional energy return — meaning power — and also, like gut, it remains soft at higher tensions, reducing impact shock. This adds to comfort and what we call ‘soft power.’ Zyex MonoGut contains no polyester. Its 100 percent Zyex monofilament construction maximizes abrasion resistance and enhances string life." Reports from early playtests have been extremely positive, Crandall added.

The 16-gauge Zyex MonoGut is designed for players seeking both gut-like playability and superior durability in a solid monofilament string, as well as players using monofilament strings in hybrid patterns. A natural gut-like tan in appearance, Zyex MonoGut is available in 40-ft. sets and 360-ft. reels. Recommended stringing tension is up to 60 lbs.

Visit ashawayusa.com.

SoCal Loses Bill Rombeau

Former USTA Southern California President William “Bill” Rombeau died Jan. 7 at his home in California. Rombeau was a USTA volunteer for more than 25 years, serving as a USTA Section Delegate and, from 1997 to 2008, as president of the Southern California section. He was also a former president of the ball machine company Sports Tutor.

In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that memorial contributions be made to the Pacific Southwest Youth Tennis Foundation, Los Angeles Tennis Center, 420 Charles E. Young Drive West, Los Angeles, Calif. 90024-9115, and to CurePSP, 30 East Padonia Road, Suite 201, Timonium, Md. 21093.

Hall, Hines Begin New Roles at Dunlop

Dunlop announces new and expanded roles for industry veterans Steve Hall and Hunter Hines, both based in the Greenville, S.C., office.

Hall, who has been with the company since 2000, now assumes the title of director of marketing for Indoor Sports, where he’ll oversee squash, badminton and other indoor sports. Hall will also lead the charge in exploring additional categories in which the company can grow.

Hines, who’s been in the tennis industry for over 10 years, assumes the role of director of marketing and product for tennis. He will oversee traditional marketing duties such as advertising, PR and social media, but will also have a hand in consumer and tour player product development as well as tour player signings, and will continue to be an integral part of the Dunlop sales management team.

‘March Into Tennis’ — Host a Kids Event

The USTA is looking for tennis providers to “March into Tennis” with events geared to getting kids into the game. With a key multi-million dollar partnership between the USTA and popular kids’ TV network Nickelodeon, providers who host a Youth Registration or Play Days event in March, or start up a new Kids’ Tennis Club, can reap benefits for their business.

Facilities registering their kids’ events at USTA.com/coaches-organizers will receive USTA national and local public relations support, geo-targeted online advertising, turn-key marketing materials, a $50 event pack voucher, a downloadable how-to guide, and national promotion on Nickelodeon and ESPN2 to drive children and parents to local clubs. Events can be held any time through the month of March or beyond.

Ashaway Adds ZyMax 65 Badminton String

Ashaway Racket Strings has rounded out its ZyMax family of badminton strings with the introduction of ZyMax 65, billed as its most repulsive badminton string ever. Utilizing a combination of high-tech materials and a proprietary ZyWeaVe core construction, the new 22-gauge (0.65 mm) string maintains tension better and generates more repulsive power than other badminton strings on the market, according to the manufacturer.

New MRTs

Adam Palmer, Cincinnati,OH

Tony Mendoza, Centralia, WA

Mitch Case, Torrington, CT

Jamie Venerys, Cottesloe, West Australia

Grayson Throckmorton, San Antonio, TX

James Panadise, San Antonio, TX

Evan Howard, San Antonio, TX

New CSs

Jarryd Woog, Lakeland, TN

Short Sets

New Bolt Frames Feature ‘ZipStrip’

The new Bolt racquet shifts flexibility away from the frame and into a patented design called a ZipStrip, which works with the strings at ball impact to improve the response of the racquet, says the company. The ZipStrip is a spring-like string support that flexes instead of the frame. Bolt says the flex of the ZipStrip controls ball rebound speed, while the frame itself remains firm and powerful, creating “optimum precision and control, with maximum power.”

Bolt Sports LLC founder and director Brett Bothwell has a background in architectural design and engineering and has played and coached in tennis for nearly 40 years. He says the ZipStrip acts like a shock absorber, responding to the ball impact before forces are transmitted to the frame, while allowing the string bed to cradle the ball and launch it from the strings. The company also says since the ZipStrips reduce stress in the string near the frame edge, it can help reduce string breakage, too.

Bolt currently has two models available, the B98 and B100. The B98 is intended for advanced all-court players who like a smaller head size (98 square inches) for maneuverability. It weighs 11.4 ounces and has an 18 x 20 string pattern. The B100 is suited for different types of players depending on how it’s strung, says the company. It has a 100-square-inch head, weighs 10.8 ounces and has a 16 x 19 string pattern.

Two new “light” models — the B100.light and B98.light — will be ready for market in mid-March, says Bothwell. “We’re tennis professionals designing for professionals, and we’ve been building our pro network for over a year prior to our launch last August.” For more on Bolt, visit boltadvance.com.

US Open National Playoffs Return for 2012

The US Open National Playoffs will return for a third year, with entries available starting March 15 for all Sectional qualifying tournaments. The US Open National Playoffs will again include both men’s and women’s singles and mixed doubles.

The USTA created the Playoffs to provide an opportunity for players 14 years of age and older to earn a berth into the US Open. The men’s and women’s singles champions earn a wild card into the US Open Qualifying Tournament, held the week prior to the US Open. The US Open National Playoffs mixed doubles champions receive a main draw wild card into the 2012 US Open.

Registration for the 13 sectional qualifying tournaments begins on March 15 at usta.com/tennislink. The entry fee is $100 for singles and $120 for each mixed doubles team ($60 per player). All competitors must be USTA members.

For more information, visit USOpen.org/ NationalPlayoffs.

 

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